Newspapers in the UK broke open a fresh wave of hysteria about immigration as a “flood” of Romanians and Bulgarians are expected to come to the country, which is already apparently bursting at the seams. But UK journalists should count themselves lucky – according to statistics, Britain is only around the 50th most crowded country in the world. Using population density statistics from around the world, we’ve compiled the Top 10 Most Overcrowded Countries (dependencies such as Hong Kong are excluded). Find out the places you really could describe as “bursting at the seams” below…
The images of white beaches and green hills don’t exactly look densely populated but Mauritius is actually one of the most crowded countries in the world. With an area of just 788mi2, there isn’t much room to move, and there were 1,291,456 a people there at the last count (2012 census), giving a population density of 1,638 people/mi2. They aren’t all in the city either, with the capital Port Louis having a population of only 148,001, so the other million are spread out over the various islands that float in the Indian Ocean. But there’s one part of the population missing and that’s the dodo, a bird that was indigenous to the country before it was discovered by Europeans in the 17th Century. At the time there were only around 50 people on the islands and the dodos had no fear of humans…but they should have, as the settlers hunted and killed them for both sport and food. So the dodo no longer needs space on Mauritius, but the million people there do…
Officially known as the Republic of China, there are some disagreements over whether Taiwan is an autonomous country or not. What isn’t disputed is that it is very densely populated, a result of rapid industrialization that has seen it rise to become the 19th biggest economy in the world. Its current population is 23,367,320, over an area of 13,973mi2, making the population density 1672 people/mi2. The capital city, Tapei, is home to 6,900,273 people in the greater metropolitan area, a figure similar to London a few years ago. In the special municipality of Taiwan, there are 2,652,959 people in just 105 square miles, which is a population density of 25,266 people per square mile. Generally, most of the population squeeze into the western side of the island, so the populated areas are very dense indeed. Unsurprisingly, most tourist reviews of the country include the word “crowded” somewhere in there…
Like Mauritius, this is an island paradise which could do with more space. The country is even smaller than Mauritius (and there are smaller yet to come), with a total area of 166mi2 and a population of 277, 821 according to the 2010 estimate, giving a density of 1673 people/mi2. The dense population has caused a host of environmental problems, with a lot of pressure on the sewage treatment plants serving the island, and pollution threatening the coral reefs that grow offshore. However, the government are working on initiatives to protect both the reefs and the island and keep them clean. The tourism that supports the island’s economy does little to help the environment but again, there are new initiatives in place to solve the problem.
If you asked someone to name the world’s most densely populated country, they would probably guess at Bangladesh. In fact, it’s only the 7th but it does have the biggest population of any on our list, with 155,872,000 people – a figure that puts it in the top 10 most populated countries, as well as the most densely populated countries (population estimated by the International Monetary Fund in 2013). That gives a population density of 2,735 people/mi2. It was traditionally one of the world’s poorest countries as well, but the poverty rate has declined 25% since 1990 and it’s now being touted as a developing economy to watch. In fact, it was named as one of Forbes’ “Next Eleven” – a list of economies that may become the next superpowers. However, there are difficulties predicted along the way, with the World Bank saying “Among Bangladesh’s most significant obstacles to growth are poor governance and weak public institutions”. And lack of space may well be another significant obstacle…
There’s already been some beautiful islands on the list that are suffering from the effects of overpopulation. But none are under as much threat as the Maldives, which are sinking so fast that they may not exist in 100 years. According to the CIA, the Maldives has a population of 393,988 and an area of just 115 mi2, which makes a population density of 3,425 people/mi2. And those people may need to find a new home very soon. With the island estimated to be flooded by 2100, if sea levels rise to 59cm, the government of the Maldives has started looking into purchasing land in Australia, India and Sri Lanka and resettling there. Visit while you can!
Another island with overcrowding issues. Malta has an estimated population of 452,515 over an area of 112mi2 – a density of 3,739 people/mi2. The Mediterranean island is also a tourist hotspot, thanks to its seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other historical attractions – with 1.2million tourists each year, the tourists outstrip the residents 3 to 1. It has a slightly ageing population, with 20.3% of the population being in the 50-64 age bracket and some of those being British ex-patriots who have come to retire in the warm climate. However, the old-age-dependency ratio is only 19.8%, which is lower than the EU average. Still, the twin problems of overcrowding and immigration must be worrying for an island already overdeveloped for the tourists. Malta may well be the next country to have a housing crisis.
A largely Muslim set of islands in the Gulf of Persia, Bahrain has a total area of 292mi2, but its population is around 1,234,571, according to its last census and 89% of those people live in just two cities – Manama and Al Muharraq. Not surprising in a country that’s 92% desert. Over the whole country, that’s a population density of 4,227 people/mi2 but in the cities it’s much higher. It also hosts millions of tourists each year (8 million in 2008), who mainly come from the neighboring Arab states although since it opened in 2004, the F1 circuit in Bahrain has also attracted foreign visitors. It has the distinction of being the most densely populated sovereign state in the world and one of the fastest growing economies, but Bahrain is also a hotbed of political unrest, with the Bahraini uprising causing disruption since 2011. A country of sharp contrasts.
3. Vatican City
So, the first of three city states to top the list – the Vatican City is a country-within-a-city and home to the top personnel of the Catholic Church. 839 of them, to be exact, squashed into an area of 0.17mi2. That gives us an impressive population density of 4,935 people/mi2. Even more impressive is most of the space in the Vatican is taken up with the expansive St Peter’s Square and then the Vatican Gardens. Really, it’s just 839 people living in a tower block or two. But what impressive-looking tower blocks! It is, of course, the smallest recognised country in the world both in terms of area and population and is headed up by the Bishop of Rome, known to most people as the Pope. It also may boast the most works of art and architecture per square mile, but there isn’t an index for that…
For even more crazy population densities, let’s look to our last two city states. Singapore has a density of 19,562 people/mi2 with its 276mi2 being home to over 5 million people. The last estimate was 5,399,200, although only 62% of those are citizens – the rest are students and foreign workers. And to add on to those residents, there are about 11 million visitors every year. Due to the lack of space, most residents live in high rises known as the Housing and Development Board Flats. There has also been around 70km2 of land reclaimed from the sea in order to get more space and there is more reclamation planned. But for now, residents continue to live and work in the skies – there are 59 skyscrapers that reach over 459ft tall, with the tallest three all reaching 919ft. It may not be great for anyone with vertigo, but it makes for an impressive skyscape!
Home to the super-rich – 36,136 of them – Monaco is also the country with the highest population density in the world. Those super-rich people fit into an area just 0.78mi2 big, yielding a population density of 46,328 people/mi2. It also has a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of $153,177 per capita, the highest in the world, and the world’s lowest unemployment rate at 0%. This is one seriously rich country. It’s surprising that such rich people would choose to live in such cramped conditions, but they do – fighting over units in the not-yet completed Odeon Tower, where the penthouse is said to be worth around $329 million. It comes with swimming pools, saunas and a chauffeur service – all of which can be summoned with a touchscreen panel inside your apartment. So it’s far more crowded than Bangladesh, but still more people want to live there. Strange world, isn’t it?